I think it is interesting that Christ would command that alms, prayers, and fasting should be kept secret. I suppose they are acts that are more visible than others, or can be. But perhaps the reason why Christ wanted them to be more private is so that they can be less forced and less pretentious, and more genuine, more focused on the individual’s true concerns, and so do them the most good.
Something that can easily happen in church is for people to be so intent on showing forth the fruits of Christianity that they begin to police each other and judge one another by what they see them doing. (“Is he really a saint? Is she really a Christian? Well, I saw him give a somebody a ride, and I saw her pray and she prayed well, so I guess they are good Christians.”) Or maybe we only imagine that others are looking at us this way.
The result of this is that we may feel we must put on some sort of show of righteousness to signal that we are okay, and that doing otherwise would attract attention and concern over our spiritual status.
1 Verily, verily, I say that I would that ye should do alms unto the poor; but take heed that ye do not your alms before men to be seen of them; otherwise ye have no reward of your Father who is in heaven.Without any secret alms, we may feel pressured to give to “acceptable” charities, or give to the popular charities that are being pushed, even if we don’t really want to. The problem with this is that giving alms and charity doesn’t spiritually benefit us unless we truly want to help. Giving secretly takes all the pressure off so we truly have freedom to give. Secret giving means the amount can be what truly feels comfortable to us, rather than something that we feel we have to give to prevent others from thinking we are stingy. Secret giving means giving or not giving has no effect on our public reputation, so giving more won’t help it, and giving less won’t hurt it. I imagine it can be tempting to public figures to give publicly as a means to build good will.
2 Therefore, when ye shall do your alms do not sound a trumpet before you, as will hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.
3 But when thou doest alms let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth;
4 That thine alms may be in secret; and thy Father who seeth in secret, himself shall reward thee openly. (3 Nephi 13:1-4)
But here’s a question. How can we teach children to give and teach others to give if we don’t set an example for them that they can see? Is a public example one that “sounds the trumpet before you” ? Does teaching involve just doing it and allowing children to see and then not saying much about it? Is that public, or is that still secret?
I remember once when my mom and I took some boxes over to a sister’s house. This sister was going to move soon, and she needed boxes. My mom suggested that we leave the boxes on her porch and then leave so that she wouldn’t know who had provided them. Is this public or private alms? Perhaps taking others into the secret so that they can participate too is not making it public, but is including them in the secret so they can learn and benefit.
5 And when thou prayest thou shalt not do as the hypocrites, for they love to pray, standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.Without any secret prayers, we are unable to truly address the truly volatile concerns we have that really need divine help. For instance, an individual needs to have the freedom to pray, “Please help me keep my temper so that I don’t beat my spouse and children!” or “Please help me stay emotionally faithful to my spouse so that I don’t have an affair!” if those really are things that they are fighting. If the only prayers we say are public prayers, we tend to scrub the intensely personal things out of them, even though we really need it.
6 But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (3 Nephi 13:5-6)
The thing that I wonder about is this: in what manner does Heavenly Father openly reward us for our secret prayers? Does anyone have some insights about this? Any examples that come to mind?
16 Moreover, when ye fast be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance, for they disfigure their faces that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward.I don’t know if our church really has much trouble with disfiguring our faces to look like we are fasting. Maybe the main thing we have troubles with is making jokes about fast Sunday being the slowest Sunday and making jokes about how it isn’t good to talk about food on fast Sunday. But perhaps another thing that we could do is look for occasional opportunities to fast at times besides the usual fast Sunday. No one on earth would know, so it can’t benefit our reputation.
17 But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face;
18 That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father, who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly. (3 Nephi 13:16-18)
I’m not sure I know of open rewards and blessings that the Lord gives for secret fasting. Maybe it is because I don’t fast at other time deliberately for a spiritual purpose. Does anyone have any experiences or insights they can share on this?